First-response: contenders fizzle faster than Milli Vanilli
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Jan 02, 2010
The pigskin paramedics from the Cold, Hard Football Facts first-response team race to the rescue in our ambulance of truth in the wake of an underwhelming Week 17 of dogs (Chicago-Detroit), no-shows (Cincy, Indianapolis) and wounded warriors (Wes Welker).
Sorry, Wes, reconstructive knee surgery is not a first-response team specialty. How 'bout a shot of bourbon to deaden the pain?
In the meantime, here's our first-response look at Week 17, the last week of the 2009 regular season but the first of the 2010s.
Also, check out the AFC and NFC playoffs seeds and the wildcard schedule here.
Who's hot, who's not (and who's in between)
Hot: Green Bay. Sizzling right now, like a healthy nutritious bratwurst. The Packers are one Ben Roethlisberger pass away from entering the playoffs with an eight-game winning streak, including three victories over playoff contenders (Dallas, Baltimore and Sunday's dominating 33-7 win at Arizona).
Not: Indy. A team that had history in its grasp failed to show up for the final two games. We've seen this story before, and it always ends badly for the Colts. Maybe this year will be different. Or maybe it will be the same old story for the One-'n-Doners from the Crossroads.
Lukewarm: New England. It's been hard to take this team's temperature all year. Sometimes they look dominant. Sometimes they look ordinary. Sometimes they look more awkward than a pimple-faced teenage Troll trying to slow dance to Stairway at that point when the music suddenly speeds up. The Patriots enter the playoffs with a 3-3 record in their last six games and probably without an injured Wes Welker. They won't miss him. He merely caught 123 passes in 13 games plus one quarter this year.
Hot: Dallas. The Cowboys are hotter than their iconic white-hot-pants clad cheerleaders. They ended the Saints undefeated season with a 24-17 win in New Orleans on Dec. 19. They followed with a dominating 17-0 shutout in Washington and then this Sunday's even more impressive 24-0 alleyway beating over the rival Eagles for the NFC East crown. Last we checked, that spells back-to-back shutouts entering the playoffs and that's a good sign. Oh, and Tony Romo's on fire, too.
Not: Cincinnati. The conventional wisdom is that the Bengals will rest their key players Sunday night, allowing the Jets and the league's top-ranked defense to waltz into the playoffs. If so, the Bengals enter the playoffs with three wins in their last seven games – over the Browns, Lions and Chiefs. That's not an encouraging trend in a postseason that will include games against some combination of Jets-or-Texans, Ravens, Patriots, Chargers and Colts.
Lukewarm: Minnesota. The Vikings dominated the lame-ass incredible shrinking Midgets, 44-7, in the season finale, and BrettFavre was brilliant in that game. But, like New England, Minnesota is just 3-3 in its last six games and, here in December, they have been spottier than a Dalmatian with measles.
Hot: San Diego. The Chargers enter the playoffs as, officially, the hottest team in the tournament. They've won 11 straight games, the longest streak entering the postseason, including Sunday's Billy Volek-led 23-20 win over the Redskins. San Diego's last defeat? A 34-23 home loss to Denver, back when the Broncos were still good.
Not: Arizona. The 10-6 Cardinals earn consecutive playoff appearances for just the third time in franchise history, and they proved last year that they could turn a 9-7 record into a conference title. But since beating the Vikings impressively in Dec. 6, Arizona has beaten only Detroit (by seven) and St. Louis. The second-stringers were hammered 33-7 by the Packers in the finale.
Lukewarm: N.Y. Jets. The J-Men, already experts on the topic, have redefined the term "backing into the playoffs" with a pair of wins over two contenders who didn't put up a fight, including Sunday night's 37-0 beatdown of a Bengals team that couldn't look less interested. The Jets may be good. But we don't know.
Great quotes from guys named Boomer
Chris "Boomer" Berman on Indy's capitulation last week against the Jets: "The Colts miscalculated the feelings of the average Joe working two jobs."
No sh*t. They miscalculated the feeling of their own players, too. We hate to throw out clichés, but opportunity only knocks once and records are meant to be broken. The Colts forgot both.
Boomer Esiason, on the Bears-Lions game: "These players have families, so I guess we'll show the highlights."
Ouch. But as a guy who played on his fair share of bad teams, Boomer knows the pains of being ignored.
Looks like they picked the wrong year to stop sniffing glue
The 2009 Patriots win the AFC East and earn a homeplayoff game with a 10-6 record.
The 2008 Patriots went 11-5 and didn't even make the playoffs, watching the postseason from home even as five teams with 11-5 records or worse went to the dance.
Some 9-7 teams will sit at home this year, losing out on tiebreakers to the two 9-7 wildcard teams from the AFC. But, for the most part, the 12 teams with the 12 best records in football will appear in the playoffs. What a novel concept.
Four Cold, Hard Cowboys Facts
ONE - The Cowboys enter the playoffs after posting consecutive shutouts for the first time in franchise history, according to NBC. Dallas beat Washington 17-0 last week and Philly 24-0 this week.
TWO - The Cowboys swept the season series and will attempt to beat the Eagles for the third time this year in the wildcard round next week. According to the Fox Sports postgame Sunday, teams that enjoyed a two-game sweep of a division rival in the regular season are 12-7 against those teams in playoff meetings.
THREE - The Cowboys-Eagles rivalry began in 1960 and the teams have met three times in the same season on three previous occasions: in 1980, 1992 and 1995. But the two teams split the regular-season series each time. Put another way, Dallas this year will attempt to become the first team in the 50-year history of the storied Cowboys-Eagles rivalry to beat the other three teams in the same season.
FOUR - Running back Felix Jones ripped off another long touchdown, a 49-yarder in the third quarter, to give the Cowboys their final points of the day. Jones ends the season with 116 carries for 685 yards (5.91 YPA) in his small handful of appearance this year.
That gives the explosive Jones an amazing 951 rushing yards in his two NFL season on just 146 attempts. That's an historic average of 6.51 YPA. You wonder what he could do with fewer injuries and more opportunities.
Valley-ing at the wrong time
The Saints and Colts were a combined 26-0 through Week 13. They're a combined 1-5 from Week 15 to 17.
The Milli Vanilli of pigskin
The Saints offense this year fizzled faster than Milli Vanilli's career at the top of the pop charts.
Through Week 12, New Orleans was 11-0, fresh off a dominating win over the Patriots and looked like Alexander's army in the wake of a gridiron Gaugamela: ready to conquer the world.
Then they wobbled in three-point wins over inferior Washington and Atlanta teams and now go out with three straight defeats, including Sunday's 23-10 loss to the Panthers.
The once invincible offense has got to be a huge concern. We realize Mark Brunell ran the offense this week, but the trends this year have not been good. Consider these Cold, Hard Football Facts.
The Saints averaged:
46.5 points through their first two games
39.7 points through their first six games
37.0 points through their first 11 games
20.6 points in their last five games
14.7 points in their last three games
10 points in their last game, a season low.
We understand they had the division and the first-round bye sewn up early. But girl you know it's true: that's a bad trend.
(C'mon guys, you know we can't let this moment of cheesy 1980s pop to pass. It would go against our Troll code of ethics.)
show video here
Yup, folks, those were the sounds of Spring Break '89, back in the day, as they say. By the way, if you just so happen to be one of those two girls who drove us back to the condo after we fixed your car outside the club that night, or if you happen to know those girls, a certain web site publisher wants to apologize for the way things went down. Suffice it to say, it involved a few Andrew Dice Clay pick-up lines that did not go over very well. Bottom line? He's just a dick.)
The Taco Bell diet
Have you seen these commercials over the past few weeks with the girl who says she lost 54 pounds on the f*cking Taco Bell diet?
Can we call bullshit?
Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.
Believe you us, we eat at Taco Bell as much as the next guy and all we've lost is some change in between the rolls of flab that pass for our abdomens.
Ma Byrne's Crabbies
Speaking of things sure to render you a fat, disgusting pig, it's time to talk the Chief Troll's mom's world-famous crabbies. In fact, can't believe we never published this recipe in our tailgate section before.
They're a perfect gameday appetizer and a big hit at the drunken, violent, white-trash hoedowns and barn dances that pass for our family holiday gatherings. You've probably seen a couple of these parties broken up on a certain episode of "Cops."
Here they are, Ma Byrne's World-Famous Crabbies:
1 stick of butter, softened
1 5-ounce jar of Kraft Old English cheese spread, room temp
Garlic salt to taste
Seasoned salt to taste (CHFF favorite Old Bay works, too)
1 scoop of mayonnaise
1 or 2 6-ounce cans crab meat (go with 2, you can also use canned shrimp)
5 to 6 English muffins (10 to 12 when split)
Preheat oven to broil. Mix together butter, cheese spread, mayonnaise, garlic salt and seasoned salt (or Old Bay) so that it's well blended. Add a little more garlic salt, seasoned salt and Old Bay. It won't kill you. Mix in crab meat until well incorporated. Spread mixture on top of split English muffins set on baking or cookie sheet. Sprinkle top of each with paprika. Broil about 5 minutes or until spread becomes bubbly and browns. We cut each muffin into quarters when done so you have 40 to 48 bites of heart-clogging goodness.
That can't be good
Speaking of bad trends, New England's Achilles' heel, the weakness that has come to define Bill Belichick's once-proud defenses, reared its head again in the season finale, a 34-27 loss to the Texans.
Once again, the Patriots proved completely incapable of making a stop in the fourth quarter, surrendering three straight fourth-quarter touchdown drives. The Patriots blew a 27-13 lead in the final frame and what looked like it could be a dominating, momentum-building win over a team that had plenty to play for.
Instead, it's another complete fourth-quarter collapse, much like the one that cost the Patriots the Colts game in November and several of its biggest defeats in recent years.
Fighter or quitter
There's something noble to be said for the teams that have little to play for but that keep fighting to the bitter end. Conversely, quitters should be executed in the town square so that the blood runs through the nooks and niches of the cobblestone streets and then the rodents and vultures come to drink it up in a gruesome, medieval feeding frenzy.
But we'll settle for a verbal condemnation in the court of public opinion.
Fighter – Cleveland. Nobody produced a bigger reversal at the end of the year than the Browns. They were 1-11 at one point and it looked surely like the Eric Mangini reign along the Cuyahoga would be much like an Indy playoff apperance: one and done. But the Browns rallied to win four straight to close out the season, including a win over the Steelers to spark the streak and Sunday's 23-17 win over the Jaguars. Mangini looked dazed and confused in November. But the performance down the stretch tells us that he never lost his team.
Quitter – Indianapolis. We're still disgusted. This team deserves all the boils and lesions and hideous, disfiguring diseases that come its way. The no-show effort in the snow Sunday – a 30-7 loss to a bad Bills team – reminds us of why this team has so often underachieved when the going gets tough. We don't care how many back-ups you're playing or how bad the weather is, you shouldn't lose by 23 to Buffalo. The snow certainly didn't stop the Bills from racking up plenty of points. Bottom line: the Colts quit for the second week in a row.
Fighter – Tampa Bay. The Bucs lost 20-10 to the Falcons in the season finale. But a pair of wins in December, including a 20-17 victory over the mighty Saints in OT, tells us that there was a lot of fight in this club.
Quitter – N.Y. Giants. Outscored 85-16 in their last two games. The 41-9 home loss to the Panthers last week was the worst of the two beatings, even more quitter-esque than Sunday's 44-7 loss at Minnesota. The Giants still had a shot at the playoffs heading into the Carolina game. This team had no hahhtt.
Fighter – Carolina. The Panthers were eliminated from contention weeks ago but went 3-0 in their last three games and 4-1 in December and January, including wins over the playoff-bound Vikings and Saints. Matt Moore played very well in the place of Jake Delhomme and looks like a QB you can win with. Jonathan Stewart (1,133) and DeAngelo Williams (1,117) , meanwhile, become the first tandem in history to each top 1,100 yards on the ground. It's infuriating that this team can't piece together back-to-back good seasons. But based on the swinging pendulum of Panthers fortunes, the 2010 season should be a very good one.
Quitter – New Orleans. From 13-0 to 13-3. No team in history has lost its last three games and gone on to win the Super Bowl.
Fighter – Kansas City. A long, dreadful year for the 4-12 Chiefs ended on a bright note. Kansas City dominated the Broncos in Denver, 44-24, avenging a 44-13 loss to the Broncos just a month ago. The best part for KC? The Broncos actually had something to play for: they would have been in the playoffs with a win Sunday and losses by the Ravens and Jets. The chances were slim. But they were chances just the same.
Quitter – Jacksonville. The Jaguars were 7-5 and in control of their own destiny following a 23-18 win over the Texans on Dec. 6. They closed out the season with losses to the Dolphins, Colts, Patriots and Browns and head into the off-season with serious needs in many areas, especially at quarterback and perhaps at head coach.
Fighter – Tennessee. From 0-8 and a humiliating 59-0 loss at New England to 8-8 at year's end, including Sunday's 17-13 win at Seattle. Chris Johnson fell shy of the all-time rushing record, but his 134 yards against the Seahawks gives him 2,006 for the season. He jumps past O.J. Simpson (2,003 yards in 14 games) for the fifth-highest rushing output in a season in NFL history. And with 154 yards from scrimmage on Sunday, he ends the season with 2,509, smashing Marshall Faulk's single-season record of 2,429 (set in 1999).
If you had one half of Rudy's heart
All of life's most important lessons were found in "Rudy," a movie that all true red-blooded, football-loving Americans know as the artistic achievement of our generation.
At one point early in the movie, Rudy's high school buddy Pete gets up in the face of Rudy's dick-head brother, Frank: "You know what Coach Gillespie said? He said if you had one half of Rudy's heart, you could have been All Conference. He said you were afraid to take a hit."
A big bar fight ensues, which always reminds us of home with the family for the holiday and of Ma Byrne's crabbies.
Later in the movie, Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian gets in the face of one of his talented but underachieving players, Jamie O'Hara: "If you had a tenth of the heart of Ruettiger, you'd have made All-American by now!"
We're reminded of these scenes when he look at how the talentless Bucs and the talent-laden Colts played through the end of the season.
If the Colts had half the heart of the Buccaneers, they'd be heading into the postseason with a 16-0 record and they'd be the toast of the nation right now.
Loose ends in Chicago ...
Jay Cutler ended what must have felt like the longest season of his life on a big upswing.
He torched the Vikings last week, with just the second four-TD day of his career, including the game-winner in overtime. He followed up with another four-TD day against the hapless Lions defense, in Chicago's 37-23 win.
In his final two games, Cutler put up these numbers:
42 of 71 (59.2%), 549 yards, 7.7 YPA, 8 TD, 1 INT, 115.3 passer rating
The completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating are underwhelming when you consider the piss-poor quality of the two opposing pass defenses he faced and the fact that these are two of the best games he's ever produced.
But for a guy who was mostly inept for large portions of the year, it's some signs of a brighter future ahead.
... and looser ends in St. Louis
The 1-15 Rams of 2009 might be remembered as the worst team of the 16-game era. We chronicled their dreadful barrel-bottom place on the stat sheet last week in our Power Rankings.
The one thing that jumps out is the offense: only a few teams in modern history have been as dreadful as the Rams of 2009: the heirs to "Greatest Show on Turf" crown at the start of the decade turned into one of the most embarrassing acts anywhere by the end of the decade.
St. Louis scored just 175 points this year, a mark that's truly abysmal in this day and age. Sixteen teams this year – that's half the league – scored at least TWICE as many points as the Rams.
Here's how the 2009 Rams go down in history when compared with the worst offenses of the 16-game era (since 1978):
1992 Seahawks (2-14) – 140 PF, 312 PA (-172)
1991 Colts (1-15) – 143 PF, 318 PA (-175)
1998 Eagles (3-13) – 161 PF, 344 PA (-183)
2000 Browns (3-13) – 161 PF, 419 PA (-258)
2006 Raiders (2-14) – 168 PF, 332 PA (-164)
2009 Rams (1-15) – 175 PF, 436 PA (-261)
(Just five other teams, so 11 total, have failed to score 200 points in a 16-game season.)
Even among this lowly group of the worst offenses of the last 32 seasons, the Rams are tied for the worst record and stand alone with the worst point differential (among this group).
So 2009 Rams couldn't score points on offense, but they made up for it by not stopping anybody on defense, either.
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